Hobbes and Aristotle offer different answers concerning the unjustness of state laws. Hobbes criticizes most of the doctrines and statements made by Aristotle, and one of such criticisms is about natural laws. According to Hobbes' Leviathan, there are three things that no one can dispute. The questions as to whether the state laws are unjust or not do not have a specific answer since each philosopher holds their variant argument. The doctrines held by each philosopher determine the answers given. The opinions on natural laws significantly influence the side that the two philosophers take while answering this question from a philosophical standpoint.
According to Fish (2017), Hobbes' main argument is that human beings are faced with the state of nature when there is no social structure. He describes such state as savage plain of existence and cruel; thus, calling for the survival of the fittest. But he explains human beings as rational thinkers who should ably come up with ways of surviving. In fact, according to Hobbes, a human being should look for security and protection as guaranteed by state laws. State laws are there to protect people and should not be viewed as unjust. Take a case where someone is hanged for manslaughter. Whoever is hanged will see state laws as unjust, but the relatives of the person who was brutally murdered will view the same laws as just.
Hobbes believes that there is no such thing as justice or injustice in the state of nature. Hobbes argues that there is nothing that can be unjust in the war of every man against every man. It means that state laws are there to guide and govern people and not to infringe on them. He proceeds to state that those who view state laws as unjust are just after satisfying their self-interest. It prompted him to indicate that where there is no collective power, there is no law and where there is no law, there is no injustice. Those in power should, therefore, come up with regulations that will ensure that every person is equal. He argues that it is ironical that the same laws that some people consider unjust, other people feel they are just. As such, it will be difficult to satisfy everybody's interests.
According to Fish (2017), Hobbes believes that unjust is by definition breaking a covenant which is valid. He states that the definition of unjust is not farther away from not performing what the agreement requires. That made him say that whatever is not unjust is, therefore, just. Hobbes argues that state laws are like the covenant that binds citizens together. For a covenant to exist between two people, there must be an agreement. For people to reach an agreement, there must be consent. So, when a covenant is made, there is no way the terms of such a covenant can be unjust. Hobbes is of the opinion that state laws are not unjust; hence, everybody must learn how to work with the laws in place. Hobbes also states that where there is no law, there is always anarchy and anarchy is usually created by those after satisfying their selfish interests at the expense of societal benefit.
Hobbes further states that the existence of a just agreement in state laws renders people irrational to agree with absolute sovereignty. He is on record saying that those people who view state laws as unjust should call for or settle on a government that will act as an arbitrator in any conflict. According to Hobbes, people are free thinkers; hence, everyone always holds his or her opinion concerning issues in the society. It will be difficult for the government to come up with laws that favor everybody. He argues that employees always protest against existing wages while concurrently, other employees feel comfortable with these same wages. Consequently, the same applies to state laws.
Aristotle, on the other hand, argues that the term justice is a relative word that is applicable in different areas. According to Armstrong (2017), Nicomachean Ethics state all lawful things are just. Therefore, state laws that bring sanity in the society and can never be unjust. Aristotle believes that it is those who implement state laws which are unjust in the sense that they fail to understand what is required by existing statutes or sometimes apply laws selectively. State laws are only unjust to unjust men in the society. Justice is one of the most important virtues, and every person should ensure that there is justice at all cost.
Additionally, Aristotle states that the just are dividable into the fair and lawful. Laws are put in place to ensure that people align to virtues. Consequently, people are prohibited from engaging in any form of vice. It will, therefore, be wrong to term laws that are meant to ensure that people live by their moral values as unjust. Those terming state laws as unjust are unjust people. Aristotle believes that most people are good, but that does not mean that good people are good citizens. To ensure that these good people become good citizens there must be state laws in place to guide and regulate their behaviors.
However, there are situations where Aristotle views state laws as unjust. One of those situations is when those in power use their authorities to infringe on the rights of others. That made him state that what is unjust defies proper proportions; thus, those who are unjust in their deeds end up getting a more significant proportion of good compared to those who value justice. In this case, the law is always applied selectively, and this makes them termed unjust especially by those people who have been affected by the selective application of state laws.
According to Armstrong (2017), Aristotle argues that before terming state laws as just or unjust, it is essential to consider whether such laws are distributive or corrective. Corrective justice depends on who has been harmed and who has harmed. In this case, when state laws are applied, whoever hurt another person will consider these laws unjust. The person who has injured and needed justice will view state laws as just, leading to a dilemma. Some people like being favored. When these laws are put in place to ensure equality, they will always see state laws as unjust.
Furthermore, Aristotle argues that those state laws that aim at the equitable distribution of resources in the society are just while those that seek the selective allocation of resources are just. In this case, it will depend on the point of view of one's analysis of these laws. Those affected by state laws will see them as unjust while those favored by the same rules will see them as just.
In conclusion, the question as to whether state laws are just or unjust is answered differently by Hobbes - Leviathan and Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics. While Hobbes' Leviathan argues that state laws are unjust, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics gives different answers to the question. Aristotle argues that one must be very keen while looking at state laws since there is no standard ground for defining the term just. Hobbes, on the other hand, holds that human beings are rational and can do what is right as required by the law.
Armstrong, J. M. (2017). Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.
Fish, S. (2017). Thomas Hobbes: The Father of Law and Literature. Law & Literature, 29(1), 151-156.
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